PITTSBURGH — The ninth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes survived a scare from Princeton at the first Post-Gazette College Hockey Showcase at Mellon Arena, defeating the Tigers, 4-1, in front of 5,430 fans watching the first Division I hockey game played in the city.
Ohio State (14-4-2) has four Pittsburgh natives on its roster and two of them, juniors R.J. Umberger and Mike Betz, played large parts in the Buckeyes’ victory. Umberger scored the game’s first goal and added an assist in the third period on Scott May’s insurance goal for a two-point night. Betz made 19 saves, including three key stops during a third-period power play by the Tigers.
The Buckeyes and Tigers battled through a scoreless first period with only a handful of quality scoring chances. Ohio State’s Scott May had two point-blank shots that Nate Nomeland kept out of the net with 12:30 remaining. After Princeton (2-15-0) killed a high-sticking penalty on Brian Carthas, the Tigers’ Mike Patton had a backhander stopped by Betz with 4:47 left in the first frame. He made an acrobatic stop by moving to his left at the last second to keep the game scoreless.
Umberger was penalized for obstruction-hooking with 1:44 left and as time ran out, Patrick Neundorfer of the Tigers was stopped by Betz, who got just enough of the shot to keep it from crossing the goal line.
Umberger scored the game’s first goal at 13:01 of the second period on a wrist shot that snuck behind Nomeland and barely crossed the line. After a short delay while the officials reviewed the play, Umberger was credited with his 16th goal of the season and 10th in his last seven games, with Reed Whiting and Scott Titus picking up assists.
“It was nice to get a goal in front of my family and friends,” Umberger said. “I just wish it would have been a little prettier.”
Ohio State had a chance to make it 2-0 but Chris Olsgard was stopped on a breakaway and a second chance by Pete Broccoli was scooped up by Nomeland. Princeton missed an opportunity to tie the game with just under four minutes to go in the second period when Betz reached to his left while off balance and stopped a rebound shot by Trevor Beaney of the Tigers.
Nate Guenin, another Pittsburgh native, was called for tripping on the play and at 17:02, a slapshot by Steve Slaton from the point got past Betz thanks to a screen in front by George Parros to tie the game at 1-1. The goal came as a result of good puck movement by the Tigers on the power play. It was Slaton’s first goal of the season and first since the first round of the 2002 ECAC playoffs against Rensselaer.
“We had several chances to tie the game in the second period,” said Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle. “We finally got one on the power play which I thought really helped us pick up the momentum going into the last period.”
Just 2:28 into the final period, however, Ohio State got the game winner from Rod Pelley on a pass from Olsgard after Princeton defenseman Matt Miglione turned the puck over behind his own net. Betz kept the Tigers from tying the game after Dave Steckel was charged with roughing at 10:12.
Two shots by freshman Dustin Sproat at the left point were stopped and Sproat then fed George Parros with a nice setup, but Betz got his pads across the goalmouth to reject the shot and keep the Buckeyes’ lead at one.
With Princeton pressing for the tying goal, Umberger was able to find May behind the Tigers defense and May beat Nomeland with a forehand move on the breakaway to seal the victory. It was May’s fifth goal of the season and the helper gave Umberger 15 points in the Buckeyes’ current seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) dating back to a Nov. 23 loss to Ferris State.
Miguel Lafleche picked up his seventh goal of the season into an empty net with just 58 seconds remaining for the final tally of the game.
“Compared to the level we played in our last win against Cornell, it was our worst effort all year,” said Ohio State head coach Dave Markell. “We were so keyed up to play well and with four regulars out, we had an ugly effort.
“[Princeton] caused us fits but Betz made some big saves for us to stay in it. I’m really disappointed in the way we played because we tried to take some shortcuts out there. You can’t take shortcuts at this stage of the season and expect to be successful.”
“Ohio State is so good with the puck that at times they had us running around,” Quesnelle said. “I thought we took a step in the right direction and played well. The final score is not indicative of how we fared.”
NOTES: Ohio State outshot Princeton, 38-20, including a 13-5 margin in the final period … Princeton competed in the Rensselaer Invitational on Dec. 27-28 and recently made a trip overseas to play three professional teams in England…Quesnelle said facing the British teams helped the team “find its strengths” … the Tigers will be at Brown and Harvard next weekend while the Buckeyes host Findlay in a nonconference matchup on Wednesday night … Friday’s game was supposed to be the second of the two games at the College Hockey Showcase but it was moved up to accommodate Ohio State fans who wanted to watch the Buckeyes’ football team play in the Bowl Championship Series national title game, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.